Exemptions in Proposition N are unfair to local businesses

On Nov. 3, St. Louis County voters will weigh in on Proposition N, which will ban smoking in enclosed public spaces, along with sidewalks and other outdoor spaces within 15 feet of the entrance to a public building. The ordinance would exempt casino gaming floors and bars that receive 25 percent or less of their gross sales from food.

We understand and support the public health initiative behind Proposition N. The risks posed by secondhand smoke are real and frightening, and we commend the measures taken by the county to alleviate unnecessary exposure to such risks.

However, we feel that the ban would be fundamentally unfair to local businesses because it discriminates between bars that serve food and those that don’t, and it favors casinos. According to a spokesman for County Councilwoman Barbara Fraser, who introduced the bill, there are likely fewer than 100 bars in the county that would qualify for the 25 percent exemption, despite the approximately 1,000 businesses with liquor licenses in St. Louis County.

Gene Cantrall, who manages Duffy’s in Richmond Heights—a popular Tuesday night hangout among Washington University students—feels that the ban will hurt small businesses like the one he works for. “Smoking is an important part of a bar atmosphere, and exempt bars will probably end up getting more business because of [the ban],” he said.

The legislation also unduly favors casinos, which generate enormous amounts of tax revenue for St. Louis County and likely hold sway over the County Council.

When a smoking ban was passed in New York City in 2003, a study conducted by the Vintners Federation of Ireland found that 78 percent of New York City bars claimed that the ban had a negative impact on their business. This number shows that people are discouraged from going out to places where they cannot smoke.

We feel that discouraging people from going out is a necessary consequence of a smoking ban, but Proposition N’s exemptions will create unfair consequences for local businesses, hurting bars like Duffy’s and helping alcohol-only venues. Therefore, we think that an appropriate county-wide ban would prohibit smoking in all public places—even casinos and establishments that receive 25 percent or less of their gross sales from food.

A ban with fewer exemptions has become the norm elsewhere—in New York City and the state of California, smoking is prohibited in all public places—and we think that St. Louis should take a similar direction.

On this count, we encourage our readers to vote against Proposition N, and we encourage the County Council to go back to the drawing board, drafting a proposition that is fair to local businesses.

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